Experience the Best of Far East and Country Living at Bittescombe Lodge
Bittescombe Lodge & Deer Park, Mandarin Oriental Exclusive Homes' first property in the UK, is explored by Rich Report.
Invariably, the English countryside is a nirvana that can only be found in the minds of old people or in Hollywood studios. Nearly the entire south-eastern corner of the country is occupied by London, which parks its sprawling suburbs there.
While there are undoubtedly beautiful hidden corners in the Home Counties (those that encircle the capital), these are all gradual gradations of London-ness that are all a part of London's identity. If you want to experience a midsummer night in a pub garden with a distant cricket bat echoing softly through the long-lingering daylight, you'll have to go a long way away from the capital.
From underrated Shropshire to underexplored Northumbria, there are numerous options. However, heading west is unlikely to disappoint. With the county of Somerset an ideal place to begin your search for a quintessential Englishness suffused with myth and legend, the "West Country" has stood out against invasion and incursion for centuries.
The county of Somerset, home to Glastonbury, which is famed for its festival, but whose ancient mystical, ecclesiastical, and Arthurian connotations make a deeper impression than Bon Jovi or Beyoncé ever could, is a prime example of rural England at its best.
Trains run from London to Taunton, where a awaiting Range Rover can take you straight into the undulating countryside and through timeless towns before diving deep into Bittescombe Lodge's countryside heartland.
The Bittescombe Lodge offers unbeatable value for money in terms of rural tranquility attained while being only a little over two hours away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. As usual, first impressions are accurate, having been dropped into a rural idyll.
Mandarin Oriental Exclusive Homes has launched Bettescombe Lodge & Deer Park in the UK for the first time. In 2022, MOXH was launched by Mandarin Oriental, the revered upscale hotel chain with its celebrity "fans", and StayOne, the prestigious private home rental business purporting to deal with top 1% properties.
With a portfolio of properties ranging from a cliff-top estate in Bali's Uluwatu to a private island nature reserve off the coast of Ibiza, all embellished with MO's legendary service standards.
As a result of a total transformation of a neglected farmhouse, barn, and outbuildings, the property was completed in 2022. Originally, an unpretentious dairy farm, what once was, is now an elegantly designed, luxuriously appointed structure poised at the top of the hospitality pyramid, and well suited to meet the needs of the most discerning of clients.
Clearly, Richard and Samantha Campbell-Breeden are hands-on with their project. The pair, it becomes clear, are sticklers for detail, precision, and for everything to be done correctly, no matter what the cost or time.
Moreover, Bittescombe Lodge's targeted guests have very similar personal profiles.
The Campbell-Breedens relocated back to the UK in 2016 after spending years in Hong Kong where Richard served as one of Goldman Sachs' top personnel in the Far East. Since they traveled extensively throughout the region during this time, they have a clear understanding of high-end hospitality (not least the clean-lined contemporary East Asian kind) and its interface with the wants and needs of high-net-worth travelers.
With a childhood spent in Portugal and France, where her family owned a hunting lodge in Chantilly once owned by the French royal family, Samantha's cosmopolitan life began as it intended to go on.
The design palette of Bittescombe Lodge may have been rather eclectic, but since she is the “chatelaine” of Bittescombe Manor House (a stately mansion purchased in 2013 for $5 million), she has a very real understanding of life on a country estate. Bittescombe Lodge has thoughtfully incorporated many Chantilly artifacts, artworks, and heirlooms into its design.
This uniquely stylized property will appeal to purists of English country house decor, but those with an open mind will be amply rewarded. Featuring elements ranging from subtly luxurious to colorfully unrestrained, contemporary is juxtaposed with traditional.
In the former barn is now a multipurpose 1,500-square-foot space called the "Old Cowshed", with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the verdant valley. The former cow stalls have been transformed into a seductive dining hall with Chantilly-style dining chairs, a club and bar, while the former dairy was converted into an indoor swimming pool and spa.
The secret door leads to a passageway with exquisite silk-lined walls, which leads to ten beautifully appointed, quirkily designed, and soundproofed bedrooms. It is a kind of contemporary version of those hidden passageways found in old houses. From monogrammed hot-water bottles to impeccable bedlinen, the attention to detail is as impressive as it is notably non-corporate. The Campbell-Breedens themselves would want to be invited into this world.
As part of the Campbell-Breeden's effort to recreate the centuries-old Bittescombe Estate, which extended over 3,500 acres in the early 18th century, they purchased further parcels of land and buildings in addition to buying Bittescombe Hill Farm.
A modern estate focusing on sustainable farming practices produces a vast selection of produce, all of which can be guided into Bittescombe's kitchen under the expert guidance of affable estate manager, Steve.
The meat included venison, lamb, wild boar, and pork, produced by a flock of 500 sheep under Emma, the shepherdess, who watched over the 100-strong herd of red deer now roaming around where the cows once ruled.
In addition to honey, fruit and vegetables, and ultra-fresh seafood from the coast just 15 miles away, including Porlock Bay oysters, which are also supplied to The Savoy Hotel, Bittescombe Lodge is self-sufficient in its largely organic produce.
Obviously, the Campbell-Breedens, hankering for the best of the best, find a Michelin-starred chef to prepare all this prime produce. Whatever the offer made to Richard Picard-Edwards, lured away from the other end of the country near the Scottish borders, it was one he couldn't refuse, as he's now settled in a nearby village with his French wife and son, where he's happy.
During his earlier tenure as executive chef in Gloucestershire, he earned his Michelin star. Prior to that, he was sous-chef to Hywel Jones, who also earned a Michelin star at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. He is the acolyte of Marco-Pierre White, the country's first-ever three-star chef (also at the Hyde Park Hotel, just before MO acquired it). Picard-Edwards has a long culinary heritage.
The situation does get even better. A Michelin star is one thing, but a Michelin star and a French father-in-law with a Michelin star (at his Bordeaux restaurant) sounds much more impressive. He describes his cooking style as having a combination of English and French flavors, as Picard-Edwards has lived in France for some time with his wife. While still in his thirties, this young chef is an outstanding chef, an integral part of Bittescombe Lodge's opulent menu.
Whether you're looking for shooting, fishing in their own lakes, playing polo nearby, stalking deer, or playing on their newly constructed padel court, they have it all. There is now so much space on the estate that those seeking glorious isolation need never leave.
As a self-contained fiefdom of rural exclusivity, the staff at this resort is delightful, and they will meet any whim, no matter how demanding. Exmoor is virtually next door for those looking to explore the wild beauty of the kingdom after lowering the drawbridge.
With cliffs that plunge into the sea, Exmoor is a sliver of timeless windswept West Country magic, home to 3,000 red deer that have lived there since prehistoric times.
Wells’ 12th century cathedral, one of England’s most captivating, is just over an hour away for the culturally inclined. Wells cathedral, with its majestic domineering frontage still putting the fear of God into anyone in front of it, is well worth the detour for its eerily atmospheric setting.
Or you could just take advantage of one of England's most deeply ingrained social conventions that centuries of war and pestilence haven't even scratched, and just "go down the pub ”.
In her vintage mustard-colored Hunter high-heeled Hunter wellies, Samantha Campbell-Breeden wades through the mud as if sauntering down a Paris catwalk in her lace-up, vintage lace-up wellies, as if delivering an update on deer stalking with Steve.
Their acquisition of the local pub means another restoration project, which wasn't yet up and running (or I would have been there), but will no doubt be soon. Could nirvana have just been a little closer?